How Recent Rain Storms Are Causing Major Problems for the Future of California

The state is more likely to see intense storms, but is ill-prepared to handle the damage.

In the state of California, climate change has been heavily studied and researched. The state contains a vast variety of environments— including mountains, deserts, coastal areas, and snow—and has endured droughts, earthquakes, and wildfires. At UC San Diego, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been studying the effects of climate change on marine life. One major effect that scientists have documented is the rising ocean water temperatures that are causing disturbances for marine life. According to Scripps postdoctoral researcher Lillian McCormick, certain marine animals are going blind from the increase in warm temperatures. Sea otters and rockfish rely on kelp as part of their habitats, but kelp can only grow in cold temps. Combined with the increase in kelp-eating sea urchins, this vital seaweed is not as abundant as it should be.

One significant change the state has seen recently is the uptick in heavy rain storms, which have caused flash floods, mudslides, and significant damages to homes and roads. Though the state doesn’t get rain storms often, scientists are noting that the intensity of the storms, called atmospheric rivers, are the most cause for concern. Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, theorizes that as the state has more atmospheric rivers with the rising temperatures that it will see more intense storms. But according to Gershunov, scientists are not seeing in the observational data that storms will get more extreme so more research is required to find out why the theory is not showing up in the current numbers. The most immediate concern is that flood-control infrastructure in the state of California needs vast improvements to handle the deluge of water from climate change, or else risk more lives and property damage.

Scientists have been actively documenting and assessing the continual damage from human-caused effects on the environment. In November 2023, UCLA climate scientist Aradhna Tripati co-authored a federal government report on climate change and told CalMatters that the report “documents the state of the science on the physical and human experiences. It shows absolutely that what is happening is not normal.” In the report, scientists have outlined how extreme heat, rising sea levels, and wildfires continue to affect the state of California. One positive impact of the scientific reports is that California has committed to banning gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.